Just Say No to The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine
Gnod are not a typical protest band. Whilst their first overtly political record is admirable in its stance and ludicrous title, they might have fallen prey to the po-faced humourlessness and artistic stagnation that seems to come part and parcel with a certain kind of direct action music. There’s a cycle of white, male music journos bemoaning the lack of protest music being made, when in fact they mean nobody looks like Billy Bragg. As Bragg’s kind either settled in comfort or were else silenced completely, the flame was picked up instead by queer DIY bands, black hip hop artists and the women who now dominate pop.
Gnod are closer to the tradition of protest music in their formation and instrumentation, while still remaining an oddity among the Dylan-punk-Bragg pantheon. In interviews and on record, the revolving door collective offer gnomic statements, though such a setup always suggests a liberal leaning towards radical politics.
With anti-capitalist track titles like ‘Bodies For Money’ and a voice struggling to be heard over an oppressive and punishing wall of distortion, as with much traditional protest music, Just Say No… has a message which is hampered by a lack of personality, and expressing it so bluntly means the sentiments are as old as a sixties march placard and just as dull.
Les Amazones d'Afrique
Since storming their UK debut at WOMAD, anticipation has been building for the debut album from collective Les Amazones d'Afrique. Comprised of 12 West African women, they’re something of a supergroup, with Mariam Doumbia of Amadou & Mariam among their number. What’s remarkable is that despite forming in 2015, their debut for Real World Records has the relaxed confidence and interplay between players of a group decades into its career.
Though unrepresentative of the record, opener and lead single ‘Dombolo’ is a stone-cold knockout. It’s a fast and fevered dance production, falling somewhere between Angolan Kuduro and restless American footwork, featuring a call-to-arms vocal from Angélique Kidjo. Pitched percussion drags the song downwards in a disorientating doom spiral. 'Mansa Soyari', sung by Rokia Koné, feels more familiar, sounding closer to the grinding desert rock of radio friendly Tuareg bands like Tinariwen.
'Doona', sung by Mamani Keita, has a Bristolian trip hop vibe, with jazzy drums and a scratchy melody phasing in and out over a soft choral background and a knotty bassline. Like ‘Neboa’, it’s an exquisite production, with exactly the right number of elements, making it into the mix.
"Woman, don't you know you're a queen?" sings Nneka on 'La Dame Et Ses Valises', a lush R&B production in the Aaliyah mould, firmly linking the project with contemporary US empowerment pop. There’s too many great tracks to note individually, but check out ‘I Play The Kora’, a slinky celebration of an instrument once off-limits to women.
A Coat Worth Wearing
There’s a school of thought that says folk has turned into a maudlin cocktail of confessionals and banjo roll styles. Sometimes this rings true. The carcasses of six-string troubadours pile high in every Nero, Costa and Starbucks, unmourned creators of a thousand songs praising nature and sepia photographs.
I’ve always felt Neil McSweeney takes the basic elements of the genre, picks the ones fitting his message, and then purifies his soul through a grittier folk. The forest we are being guided through is a conflation of vocal manipulations, distant guitar and dissonant solos gliding above Leslie speaker organs.
A Coat Worth Wearing is folk, but it experiments enough to move away from the stereotypical ‘winter pastoral’ sound plaguing much of the genre. McSweeney wears his folk credentials with pride but he’s not in his comfort zone. ‘Danse Macabre’ and ‘Forlorn Hope’, for example, go for a mood reminiscent of The Ipcress Files’ stylish soundtrack.
This doesn’t imply folk is trashed, as McSweeney clearly loves the genre. It’s on ‘Atlantis’, where his vocals really hit a raw nerve. With its solemn tone and minimal arrangement - half music, half ambient noise - it’s a wondrous peek into the abyss. Folkier tracks like ‘Waving Not Drowning’ should keep genre fans happy, but it’s on the likes of ‘Strangers of Marefield Gardens’ that McSweeney shines, standing proud in a dead forest of broken ukuleles and moleskin diaries.
Sam J. Valdés López
Neil McSweeney launches his new album at Queen's Social Club on Friday 10 March. Tickets £10 advance via Harley Live.
In anticipation of his upcoming debut album, Entkommen, Sheffield-based producer Yarni serves up two tracks from the record, plus two remixes from Bristol’s Ulex and German heavyweight Phillip Lauer.
Presumably a reference to the producer’s age - though whether wearied or celebratory, I’m not sure - ‘28 Years Of It’ is bright and breezy tech house with a bumping bassline and chiming bells, though the samples of cod African hollering could leave the producer open to accusations of cultural appropriation. With so much club music emerging from global producers directly, a world music sample in a western tune does err on the side of tacky.
Lauer’s remix of the same track is more club-oriented, with skittering hi-hats added in and bells largely sidelined in favour of an acid-tinged synth line. The second original, ‘Waterfalls’, has a more exploratory feel, with a sweeping synth that could be the sequel to the one in Kraftwerk’s ‘Spacelab’. This EP is unlikely to pique the interest of those who like their dance music gritty, but the production is undeniably slick.
The Ulex take on ‘Waterfalls’ is more low key, with the synth kept relatively subdued in the mix, leading to the style of meloncholic dance pioneered by Röyksopp and Groove Armada. The cover art, a black-and-white shot of misty telephone lines near Pole Moor, Huddersfield, is a taste of the album due out in April, which will feature a set of specially commissioned photos by Alan Silvester to match each track.